WASHINGTON — U.S. special operations forces are on the ground alongside Syrian Kurdish allies in Raqqa where they’ve begun their advance into the Islamic State’s de-facto capital, an important development highlighting how American military muscle will shape what’s expected to become a grueling urban campaign.
Some 2,500 ISIS fighters remain inside the city, U.S. officials estimate. On Thursday, Kurdish militia — backed by coalition air power and American combat advisers — seized much of eastern Raqqa’s al Mishlab neighborhood and established their first foothold there, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The U.S. military later confirmed its movement.
“Coalition SOF are in Raqqa, and they are close to the front lines,” said Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesperson for the U.S.-led coalition battling ISIS in Syria and Iraq. The Americans are not “kicking down doors,” Dillon added. Rather, their primary mission is to advise partner forces, though they are authorized to defend themselves.
The revelation fits a growing pattern in the ISIS war. As operations intensify in and around key objectives and densely populated urban centers, U.S. commanders send advisers considerably closer to the action to bolster partner forces doing much of the fighting.